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LGA - Calls from councils for disruption orders to combat child grooming

Disruption orders that allow councils to intervene when parents, police or social workers fear a child is being groomed by a sexual predator must be included in the upcoming Policing and Criminal Justice Bill, council leaders say, ahead of the Local Government Association (LGA) annual conference next week where a number of child protection issues are to be debated.

Learning from multiple Special Case Reviews has exposed that all too often children being groomed for sexual exploitation are at risk of being harmed because concerned parents and professionals are powerless to intervene. Disruption orders will provide a way of reacting to warning signs, putting in place a criminal deterrent to immediately prevent grooming developing into more serious offences such as rape and sexual assault.

Working in the same way that a breach of a bail condition would be an offence, disruption orders would restrict anyone suspected of grooming children from certain types of activity, such as being unsupervised in the company of a vulnerable child.

Early intervention would not only benefit police and social workers, but also allow the courts to impose a criminal sanction where there is evidence of grooming and they are satisfied that a child is at risk of harm. The requirement to satisfy a court would protect civil liberties while being effective against sexual predators.

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, is leading the call on Government and is supported by children's charity Barnardo's and the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) for these orders to be included in the Bill.

Child protection workers have voiced concerns over recent instances where they were hindered from acting in the best interests of vulnerable children. There have been cases where parents have raised concerns about their children showing the signs of being groomed, such as coming home with expensive gifts and smelling of alcohol, but authorities were powerless to intervene because no criminal offence had yet been committed.

CSE disruption orders would be similar to Domestic Violence Protection Orders or Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) but tailored to the risks associated with CSE. Victims would not be required to testify when an application for an order was heard and a breach of a CSE disruption order would be a criminal offence.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner's two-year Inquiry into CSE found that a total of 2,409 children were known to be victims of CSE by gangs and groups between August 2010 and October 2011; the equivalent of every pupil in three medium sized secondary schools. It is generally agreed that these figures are an under-estimate, and with each new inquiry that is published, the extent of CSE and the scale of this horrific form of abuse in our communities is becoming more apparent.

Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:

"The current sanctions in place to prevent the grooming of vulnerable children are just too limited. We need to see a change that makes it easier to intervene earlier, before harm is done. These banning orders would give local authorities the power to disrupt the ability of sexual predators to act. Having the ability to apply swiftly to the courts would allow a legal barrier to be thrown up to prevent grooming from escalating to more serious levels of sexual exploitation that can ruin the lives of children.

"We want mums and dads to be able to protect their children from being groomed by vile sexual predators and so we are calling on the Government to legislate for these orders, so no more communities will suffer the scars of child sexual exploitation.

"The introduction of Sexual Risk Orders is an important step in giving the police more powers but we need to extend this to the wider community if we are to tackle CSE effectively. Disrupting the activities of those we suspect of grooming young people is important in the battle to keep children safe from the menace of CSE. We are not trying to pass a sentence before someone has been charged, nor do we intend to stop people from carrying out their normal daily activities. But we cannot simply stand by and allow grooming to go unchallenged."

CSE disruption orders would be designed to target people suspected of grooming children, to put safe space between them and their victims. They differ from the current Sexual Risk Orders in that they can be granted by a court on the application of local authorities and police, where they can satisfy a magistrate that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person is attempting to enter into a sexual relationship with a child.

In Birmingham, the city council has used civil injunctions against men in cases where child sexual exploitation was believed to be taking place but there was not sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution. In other cases, councils and police forces have been forced to pursue suspected perpetrators for offences such as drug possession or vehicle crime, as the most practical way to disrupt their contact with the victim.

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